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Tour Divide: why?

June 10, 2010

Perhaps a good answer to this question has been a long time coming: Why race the Tour Divide?  Virtually all of the hikers I know think I’m insane.  A race?  With a bike?  Smell-the-flowers types just don’t see the appeal in an event intended to be that fast.  Virtually all of the bikers I know think I’m insane.  Camping for days on end?  Carrying bivy gear?  Road bikers just can’t fathom how that seems like a good idea.  There are, however, a few folks who understand the draw of a long pilgrimmage. 

When Lexi and I finished hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in September 2004, we knew that it was an experience that had changed our lives.  The thru-hiking lifestyle and peacefulness of a simple goal had become not only attractive, but intensely meaningful.  I’d call it a personal spiritual awakening if that phrase didn’t suggest something more traditionally religious.  One of our most difficult challenges in becoming parents in 2006 was how to achieve the benefits of epic travel while having a kid.  Sure, at some point we’d love to hike the AT as a family, and we’ve had good success on some of our medium length trips in the last several years, but the lure of the thru-something always lurked.

I first learned about the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Tour Divide race four years ago.  At that time my mid-90’s vintage Rockhopper had developed a crack in the chainstay and I opted to retire towards Sculptcycle instead of tempting fate.  I knew that my friend Rick Molz had extensive bike touring experience and asked him for some advice on what replacement bike to get.  He loaned me a pile of Adventure Cycling magazines that had various articles on how to choose a touring bike.  My interest wasn’t strictly in a pure touring bike, but the magazines were really engaging.  The ACA’s routes and stories were all about long distance travel which greatly appealed to me.  The story about the Great Divide route immediately captivated me. 

I’m not sure what Lexi thought about my intense curiosity of this event.  Maybe she thought I’d like to do it sometime.  A year ago I came out and told her that my obsession with this event was not going away, that I really wanted to do it.  I know that watching me plan and prepare for this trip has been intensely difficult for her, as she is very drawn to it herself.  Perhaps not the race format, but the rest of what its all about she is 100% attracted to.  Despite the rainy weather on the Banff Airporter shuttle from the Calgary airport, the dramatic change in scenery from the plains to the Rockies made me realize exactly how amazing this is going to be, and how lucky I am to be here.  Its not just that I have the time and willingness to be here, but that my life partner is supporting my efforts.  I hope that I can repay that debt in some way.

Before my departure I did a lot of training.  3400 miles on the bike since January 1, plus a Canadian Ski Marathon, and plenty of other things too.  I also tried my best to be there for Linnaea, soon to be 4.  She will miss me in ways an adult cannot truly appreciate, and I hope that our love will not be weakened by my absence.  I hope that local friends will come to play, visit, and support Lexi and Linnaea while I’m gone, so that their time without me is happy and fulfilling.  In the meantime, I’ll remember a series of fun late spring adventures with Linnaea:

Linnaea's tree perch

Paddling to dinner on Wrightsville Reservoir

Linnaea scrambles near the top of Burnt Rock Mountain

Linnaea and Dave on the descent of Burnt Rock Mountain

The fairy sticker on my bike, now named "Fairy Go!", complete with small jewels.

Tomorrow at 9am, Fairy Go will hit the Spray Trail and seek adventure headed to Mexico.  Lexi and Linnaea, I love you both.

Tour Divide Gear: Tarp + bug bivy

June 9, 2010

When considering what shelter to bring on the Tour Divide, weight, flexibility, and volume were my primary concerns. Tarptents are great, but the one person version weighs only a little bit less than the two person version, so that wasn’t good. Many riders bring some kind of bivy sack, but I sleep warm and hate bugs, so I couldn’t see how that would work out well. For the same reason, just a tarp wouldn’t work. I had toyed with the idea of making a modified tarptent similar to what we used on the PCT, but sized just for me. However, sewing that piece was a ton of annoying work and I wasn’t motivated to take on that project.

So, I decided to bring a tarp and a bug bivy. The tarp is pretty simple: two pieces of catenary cut silnylon with tie out reinforcements and two little 1/2″ grosgrain loops for hanging the bug bivy. Normal people would simply have bought the buy bivy from Mountain Laurel Designs, but their product claims to fit people up to 6′-4″. As I’m 6′-6″, clearly that wasn’t going to be comfy, so I looked closely at the pictures of their product and did my best to knock it off, but 6″ longer. It worked just fine.

The photos here show the two elements set up together and with some garden stakes in the backyard. It sets up fine with the bike’s front wheel at the low end, and the bike at the high end. This setup will also be fabulous for hiking on the AT or LT, since buggy shelters are common, but setting up your tent in the shelter is a major no-no.  The materials weren’t particularly expensive, and the sewing was pretty straightforward.  Of course, having sewn a more complicated tent in the past helped.  If money was no object, getting a custom sized Cuben fiber tarp from MLD, with the bivy loops in the ridge, would be expensive, but lighter by a couple of ounces.

With any luck my ride will be dry and bug-free!

Tarp
1.1 oz/yd silnylon, gray
9′-2″ long, 6′-10″ wide at head, 4′-2″ wide at foot
catenary cut ridgeline
tie points reinforced with 1.5″ grosgrain tape
Liteline Guyline
7.6 ounces

Bug Bivy
0.7 oz/yd Nanoseeum netting
1.1 oz/yd silnylon floor, black
56″ #3 YKK coil zipper at ridge
7.0 ounces

4 Titanium stakes

Tour Divide gear: bags

June 3, 2010

To carry the food, clothing, water, and bivy gear I’ll need on the Tour Divide, I’ve outfitted my bike with a set of lightweight bags. The seat bag was made by Jeff Boatman at Carousel Design Works, but the rest I’ve made from Dimension Polyant VX-04 fabric left over from the backpacks I made for our 2004 PCT hike. Yep, it will stand out a tad when I’m parked outside Podunk Mercantile.

Bike complete with seat bag, frame bag, lunch box, and bar bag.

Carousel Design Works Escape Pod seat bag. It holds my tarp, bug bivy, and clothing.

My previous frame bag was flat and had modest capacity. This one (4.0 ounces) is tapered to 4" wide in the front and has additional velcro tab stitching reinforcement. It holds tools, water, arm and leg warmers, and raingear.

The cockpit: lunch box, Garmin Vista HCx gps stem mounted, VDO C3 computer, Ay-up lights, Ergon grips, Profile Design Carbon Stryke aeros.

Lunch box opened for a feeding.

Bar bag (3.3 ounces) with special velcro attachment for Ay-up Epic battery pack. It holds my Marmot Hydrogen sleeping bag, Thermarest Neoair medium, and Patagonia silkweight long underwear.

To round out the set, I’ll be carrying an Osprey Talon 22 pack, with a 3L Camelbak, and all the valuable stuff, like money, camera, passport, and chargers for the camera and lights.  There will be plenty of spare room in the pack so that I can carry additional water on the dry stretches, and additional food on the isolated sections.

That’s it.  No panniers or racks.  I’ve got just enough volume to carry what I think I need.  Stay tuned to see how much gets send home along the way.  With any luck I won’t be giving too many items a chauffeured bicycle trip.

Green Mountain Club map and compass instructional videos

June 2, 2010

Are you a bit rusty on your map and compass navigation skills?  Since 2003 I have taught map and compass workshops for the Green Mountain Club.  Recently, Steve Larose and I teamed up to create a series of instructional videos to give you the basics.

Why to bring a map and compass

What to look for on a map

How to read contour lines

What is magnetic declination

The parts of the map compass

How to orient a map

How to follow a bearing

To learn more, go to the Green Mountain Club to sign up for one of my full day workshops.  In the store you can also buy one of the Brunton compasses that I prefer to use.

Tour Divide FAQ

June 1, 2010

June 11th I will begin a very long bike race, the Tour Divide.

What is the Tour Divide?
Its a 2780 mile mountain bike race from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the Mexican border, following the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route created by the Adventure Cycling Association.  The start is June 11th, 9AM.  The event is coordinated via the internet.  There is no entry fee, no liability waiver, no prizes, and no support.  Its just a common time that endurance fanatics can challenge each other and themselves on the longest mountain bike route in the world.  Its a route that anyone can ride at any time, and plenty of folks tour the route each year at a more mellow pace.

What is the route like?
The route isn’t marked on the ground like a hiking trail, but there are excellent paper maps and a recently updated .gpx file for GPS navigation.  About 80% of the route is Forest Service dirt roads, which vary between excellent and lousy.  There are small amounts of singletrack or rough trail that you wouldn’t call a road, and the rest is paved.  It generally follows the Continental Divide, though because it uses roads, is lower elevation than a hiking trail.  The route crosses the Continental Divide 29 times and has a total elevation gain of over 200,000 feet.

How long will it take?
The course record is currently 17:21:10, held by multiple winner Matthew Lee, sponsored by Cannondale.  That means he rode an average of 156 miles a day.  Of last year’s 42 starters, 16 finished, so the first challenge is just to finish.  Most racers who manage to complete the route finish in under 30 days.  I am aiming at 23 days, or 120 miles a day.  Perhaps more importantly, I’m aiming to finish, preferably with some kind of maniacal grin.  …or at least not seriously injure myself.

Is there support?
No, period.  This is a purely self-supported event.  No sag wagons, no caches, no friends handing you cold drinks.  If you want it along, carry it.  Riders are welcome to buy food, motel rooms, bike parts, and gas station burritos whenever they are available.  If you get injured, break your bike, or run out of gas, you’re on your own.  No care packages.

Where will you sleep?
Much like with thru-hiking, I’ll have lightweight sleeping gear, and intend to bivy most of the time.  When weather, circumstance, or the need to literally recharge my batteries dictates, I’ll stay in a motel.  However, in my hiking experience, towns are the biggest time-suck to be had, so I’ll do my best to move through them quickly.

What kind of bike will you ride?
A Niner Air9 XL.  Its a 29 inch wheel hardtail mountain bike.  The 2.1″ wide Nano Raptor tires have a narrow bead of slick, so they roll pretty well on pavement or hardpack, yet have good flotation in soft sand or mud.  Low profile knobs on the side help with cornering.

Will you have panniers?
No.  My gear without food and water will weigh about 15 pounds, light enough and small enough volume to fit into a homemade handlebar bag, homemade frame bag, a large seat bag made by Carousel Design Works, and an Osprey Talon 22 pack.  Details here.

Can we follow along?
YES!  I’ll be carrying a SPOT personal tracker, a GPS based device similar to a personal locator beacon.  It sends out location signals on a regular basis which will be displayed and tracked on the Tour Divide Leaderboard.  Carrying a unit is not required, but most racers will have one, so that on the Leaderboard Google map, you’ll be able to see 24 hours a day where I am in the pack of racer dots.  Data for just me will be here.  You’ll be able to see where I am, how fast I’m going, and how long I am stopped.  Be prepared to find the Leaderboard quite addictive, you may just turn into a “blue dot junkie”.

When I can, I’ll also be leaving voice mail messages with news about my whereabouts and what I’m eating.  Those messages, perhaps with text transcription, will be listed in chronological order on the TD Blog.  They will probably also be available as a podcast on MTBCast.  Once we get rolling, just my call ins will be here.

————-

This FAQ will be updated as I have the time.  Feel free to comment on this posting to pose a question.

Another hilly ride

May 30, 2010

Andrew and I met at Onion River Sports at 6am sharp, …okay, 6:10. Heather and Dave (yet another Dave) were there with road bikes for a short jaunt. The majority of the local road riding contingent were no doubt busy all weekend at the Killington Stage Race.  Our moderate speed hill route went as follows:

Terrace St
Middlesex Notch (hike-a-bike required)
Perry Hill
Cobb Hill
South Hill Road (that’s right David T, I’m invading your home turf!)
Moretown Gap
Herring Brook to Jones Brook
Crosstown Rd

I had hiked up to Middlesex Notch a couple of times in the past and knew it to be a lonely Wildlife Management Area host to a VAST (snowmobile) trail and much abused by ATVs.  Low down there is an area with a loads of blackberry bushes.  The picking in the fall is endless.  Higher in the notch there are some cool mossy outcrops.  At the height of land is a modest sized beaver pond with a VAST arrow nailed to a stump in the middle of the pond.  The beavers must have been at work more than usual, since the water was much higher than I had seen before, and our hike-a-bike began earlier than I expected.  There isn’t any doubt about where to go:  just head for the large mown lawn of an estate on the other side.

Middlesex Notch

Andrew Tripp finishes the hike a bike and reaches the mown grass of the "estate"

We quickly and quietly made our way across the lawn and down the driveway.  From Perry Hill Road we explored double track to the top of Perry Hill and the back end and highpoint of the Perry Hill mountain bike trails.  The 800′ drop on the main trail and yellow loop were slow and spastic for both of us.  My singletrack skills are, ahem, limited.  Brand new tight cleats and a road height saddle didn’t help much.  Down low on the yellow loop I did find one short stretch through a red pine grove that flowed very nicely.

Once across the Winooski we climbed Cobb Hill, which begins as an ordinary dirt road and eventually turns into a Class 4+ granny gear climb.  We paused at the Moretown Store for cold drinks: V8 juice for me.  On our way up Moretown Mountain Road we took a side trip up South Hill Road, mostly so that partner/nemesis-in-crime David Tremblay couldn’t chide me for skipping hills.  Past the top of Moretown Gap we turned onto the gooey and mosquitoey Herring Brook connector.

After the Jones Brook and Crosstown Road climbs, we bombed down Hill Street and rolled right to a packed Montpelier Farmers Market, where I talked bikes and croissants with Fleche teammate Randy George of Red Hen Baking.

Ride stats:
5:30 moving time
53 miles
6900′ elevation gain

Tour Divide gear: Niner Air9

May 30, 2010

My Tour Divide race machine will be a Niner Air9, various incarnations of I have run for several years. Today was time for the final build, including new cables, derailleurs, cassette, chain, brake pads and bleed, and bar tape.  The process of shifting parts over from my previous green Niner to the new Raw (silver) one was pretty smooth.  It was also an excellent exercise, since the vast majority of the time I’m out on the Tour Divide, there simply won’t be a bike shop handy to roll into should the bike need a tweak or fix.

Back when folks still used MSR Whisperlites, I always recommended that newbies get a repair kit, and before going on their first big hike, take the time to disassemble the whole thing and put it back together again.  Then, when the weather is lousy and the stove decides to crap out on you, at least you know that you’ve taken the stove apart before.  It seems like a pretty good theory to apply to a bike.

When I was done, the first test spin was rather satisfying.  My oh my do new parts run more happily than old beat up ones!  There were some annoying creaking sounds, which through pedaling trial-and-error was clearly coming from the cranks/bottom bracket area.  Luckily that annoyance was easily removed by switching out my older style Time ATAC pedals for newer ones that I had taken off to replace bushings.  One big item just got crossed off my never-shrinking Excel To Do list.

Niner Air9 XL Raw

A shiny new drivetrain!

The bike. One odd bonus item you might spot is the Adams Trail-a-bike hitch on the seatpost. Removing that will have to be a very last minute modification since the trail-a-bike is very popular!

Dave’s Tour Divide Bike
Niner Air9 Raw XL
Chris King No ThreadSet Mango
Thomson Elite Seatpost
Thomson X4 Stem
Rock Shox Reba SL  Fork
Night-Stripes Scotchlite stickers
MEC Turbo Turtle Red LED rear light

Wheels
Stans ZTR Arch Disc Rim
DT Swiss Comp spokes black with red nipples
Chris King ISO Disc Front and Rear Hub Mango
Salsa Skewers Red
Stans Yellow Rim Tape and Sealant
WTB Nano Raptor Race 29r Tire

Drivetrain
Shimano FC-M770 XT Crankset 180mm and BB
Shimano XT M770/771 9spd Chainrings – 44t and 32t
Action Tec Titanium Inner Ring-  20t with steel chainring bolts
Sram PG 990 Cassette 11-34
Sram X.9 Front Derailleur
Sram X.9 Rear Derailleur long cage
Sram PC-971 Chain
Time ATAC XS Carbon Pedals
Avid Juicy 5 hydraulic disc brakes, 185 front, 160 rear

Cockpit
Salsa Pro Moto Flat Bar 11 degree
Ergon GX-2 Magnesium Grips
Profile Designs Carbon Stryke aero bar
Sram X.7 Trigger Shifters
Gore Ride-On Fully Sealed LF Derailleur Cables
Brooks Swift Saddle Antique Brown
VDO C3 wired computer
Garmin Vista HCx GPS with stem mount

…unveiling the bags will come in a future post.

The last rides of the Kermit Niner

May 26, 2010

Way back in April, a week before the Fleche, when I was riding a measly 13-15 hours a week, upon ordinary disassembly and cleaning of my green Niner’s bottom bracket, I discovered a crack in the drive-side chainstay.  Instantaneously that frame ceased to be my Tour Divide race machine.  I’ve been accumulating new parts, spare parts, and extra parts in great piles on the floor of “daddy’s office”, a place where work does indeed occasionally get accomplished.  However, I had been reluctant to install any of those shiny bits too early, lest they be subjected to any wear or abuse prior to the Tour Divide start.  So, for weeks now I’ve been doing high mileage on a drivetrain that has been getting crankier and crankier.  The smallest two gears in my cassette skip under load and there is all manner of general creaking.

I persist and put up with the orneriness in the last few days of the Kermit Niner.  On the 23rd I rode a standard local road loop: Rt 2 east, Rt 14 north to Hardwick, Rt 15 west to Morrisville, and Rt 12 south back to Montpelier.  65 miles and a couple of moderate climbs.  A couple of years ago I’d consider it a significant weekend expedition, but now its just a refreshing jaunt.  The only notable experience on the ride was while I was patiently waiting at the intersection in Hardwick to take the left turn.  The driver of an oncoming pickup yelled at me, “bike path!”, which was rather confusing, since Hardwick is hardly a mid-sized progressive city with a helpful network of bike paths.  As far as I know, Hardwick has zero bike paths.   Its amazing that so few drivers understand that bikes have a right to use roads.

Round barn in Elmore

On the 26th the Kermit Niner took its final voyage, a familiar 45 mile dirt road meandering loop through East Montpelier, Woodbury, and Calais. As my training has progressed over this spring, its been interesting to notice the changes in how my body feels. The first has been nutritional. My previous weekend warrior endurance efforts generally felt limited by my outrageous metabolism, and my need to eat and drink huge amounts just to keep going. These days I always bring peach newtons and whatever flavor of fruit leather Linnaea grabbed at the coop, but as long as I’m regularly sucking my homebrewed electrolyte drink from my Camelbak, I just don’t need those solid snacks on rides of 3 or 4 hours or more.

The second is fitness. In the last five or six months my resting heart rate has dropped 10 beats per minute, from the low 60s to the low 50s. I don’t really care how long climbs are, since I’m generally looking for lots of climbing, and I’m increasingly comfortable shifting into a low gear and just spinning up whatever is in the way. My fitness gains may or may not be related to another improvement: my increased heat tolerance. Yeah, yeah, in north central Vermont, it doesn’t get that hot. However, I’m used to being completely wilted by the first hot (90F+) days of the season. In recent warm days I drank plenty and generally felt fine. Hooray for whatever made that happen.

On this particularly warm day I arrived at the Maple Corner Store looking for a cold something: a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich. Mmmm. A local fellow came out with a 12 pack of cheap cold beer, and tied it on to his 50s vintage motor scooter. He seemed quite intent on riding home to sit back, and not mow his lawn.  I rode home to dismantle the Kermit Niner.

Maple Corner Store, Calais

ACA Notes mention

May 18, 2010

Time will tell how my physical and psychological fortitude stacks up relative to the rest of the Tour Divide crew, but according to Michael McCoy of the Adventure Cycling Assocation, my Tour Divide letter of intent takes a podium position!  That’s a friendly vote of confidence, since he’s the author of Cycling the Great Divide.

Thanks!  …I wonder if he knows Little Debbie…

Mount Montpelier?

May 16, 2010

There is no Mount Montpelier, at least in my town there isn’t. However, with the Tour Divide training window coming to a close sometime soon, with a bit of persistent idiocy, I invented a simulation.  Being in a valley means that most directions you can ride are uphill.  So, ride up every darn hill in town:

Northfield Street
Hill Street
Berlin Street
Phelps Street (short but wowzers its steep!)
Wheelock Street
Gallison Hill Road
Towne Hill Road from Rt 2
Liberty Street
Main Street/County Road to Cummings
Lincoln Avenue and looping through the St. Augustine’s Cemetery
North Street to where it levels out
Gould Hill Road
Winter Street to the Tower
Terrace Street
East State Street

Some of these climbs are pretty ordinary, but Phelps Street is outrageously steep.  You’d best be in the right gear when you hit it or you simply won’t get anywhere.  Taken as a whole, it was a peculiar feeling to have almost no flat terrain where I could just cruise.  Sure, I can hammer up a small climb or two, but with this much climbing in such a modest distance, I was forced to sit down and work through each bump.  It was a tough workout, and probably excellent for technique as well.

Ride stats:
37.2 miles
5300′ elevation gain
3:10 ride time

Note that that’s like climbing App Gap from Rt 100, THREE times, in less distance, and without the valley commute.

St. Augustine's Cemetary, at the top of Lincoln Ave

Three snacks and one nipple

May 15, 2010

For today’s training ride I planned to hit a bunch of gaps, just to rack up a bunch of climbing. I knew that the small bag of generic coop peach newtons wasn’t going to be sufficient fuel for that mission, so my first step was to get additional sustenance.

Snack #1
When its a farmer’s market day, there is only one true snack to be had…a Red Hen Baking Pain au Chocolate.  I got one from none other than Fleche teammate Randy George.  Yummy!  He joked that just one Pain au Chocolate wasn’t going to fuel me very far.  True, true.

The first major climb was on Moretown Mountain Road up Moretown Gap.  Its about half paved, half dirt, with mostly moderate grades.  After a zippy descent I rolled southwards on Rt 100 to Waitsfield.

Snack #2
Maple glazed little donuts from the Big Picture Theater and Cafe in Waitsfield.  It felt a tad sacriligeous to buy only a half dozen, but I really didn’t think that my stomach would be thrilled if I threw a full dozen down the hatch.  These little donuts are truly addictive.

I turned up Rt 17 to climb Appalachian (App) Gap.  My new 20 tooth chainring was positively itchin’ for some action, but just before the pitch kicked up to steep, I heard a boiiiing from the rear and found a busted spoke nipple.  Not the spoke, just the nipple.  That was inconvenient indeed.  If it had been a spoke, I could readily have fixed it with my FiberFix kevlar spoke.  However, I had no spare nipple, and it wouldn’t be field repairable anyway since I’m running my wheels tubeless.  I pondering my annoying situation briefly, and turned around to ride downhill and over Duxbury Gap to Waterbury and Five Hills Bikes.  The guys there put in a new red nipple, new Stans yellow tape, fresh Stans sealant, and had me going again in about half an hour.

From Waterbury, the Mad River Valley gap climbs were too distant to take advantage of effectively, so I turned my GPS northwards and took an effective stab at riding the Gravel Grinder route:  Perry Hill, Loomis Hill, Gregg Hill, Dewey Hill and Stowe Hollow for a total of over 3,000′ feet of climbing in under 30 miles.  Its a pretty loop, especially on a day with patchy dense clouds that looked dramatic but didn’t actually produce anything.

Stowe Pinnacle from Stowe Hollow Road

Snack #3
Just after coming off of Gregg Hill the loop follows Rt 100 briefly, and goes right by the Cold Hollow Cider Mill, well known by locals and busloads of tourists alike as having excellent cider and hot fresh cider donuts.  A half dozen cider donuts tasted great, and half gallon of cider refreshed my Camelbak.  I finished up with a pleasantly flat ride back home.

The finest local road snacks: Cold Hollow Cider and fresh cider donuts

Ride stats:
6:00 moving time
14.6 mph moving average
86.1 miles
7041′ elevation gain

XVTMBR scouting: Hardwick to Irasburg

May 13, 2010

All season I’ve exclusively ridden my bike right from my front door. That’s very time efficient, and environmentally noble, but gets a bit repetitive with the mileage I’m putting in, and is obviously not a useful way to scout new terrain for the XVTMBR.  So today I loaded the bike onto the car and drove north to Hardwick, where I parked at the Grand Union just west of town.  It seemed like the best place to “abandon” a car for a while.  My last exploration in this area last fall was quite fun, except for a two mile long section of ATV and 4×4 mud pits that ended in a long-gone bridge.  Carrying my bike over a weak beaver dam brought back memories of the portage to Robinson Lake in Algonquin Provincial Park.  The situation was a bit too hike-a-bike for my taste, so I found a different route this time.

At the end of the regular road I took a left onto a different ATV track and followed it slightly to the west of where I had been last year.  Sure, there were some completely unridable mud pits along the way, and some slippery stream bed, but there was some nice grassy trail, and a fun ledgy climb too.  Connecting in to another remote road, I wound around Keeler Pond.  It was a big improvement to the section.

Keeler Pond in Wolcott

View northwards from Morey Hill

After the descent from Morey Hill I was riding into new terrain, which is always fun and satisfying.  The next section was a long loop of increasing remoteness on the eastern slopes of the Lowell Range.  Loose cobbles and enormous potholes are a good sign that you’re in for a quiet ride.  The sign for the Wild Branch Wildlife Management Area was thoroughly dented by small arms fire, making it abundantly clear that “wildlife management” really means “shoot ’em all”.  I took a brief look at a cyanotically faded map of the WMA and quickly determined that the two “trails” on the property didn’t lead anywhere, and so kept going forward on the dirt road.

Wild Branch WMA, Eden, VT

A skidder fresh from timber harvest, Albany, VT

Just before the last 40mph downhill to Albany village, the historic Bailey-Hazen Road crossed and headed northwest across the Lowell Range directly to Lowell.  If we opt to route the XVTMBR in that direction, it would undoubtedly be a classic mountain bike hill climb.

I crossed paved Route 14 and headed towards East Albany.  At the top of a long dirt road climb I turned onto a Class 4 road that made a fun rocky descent next to a stupendously maintained sugarbush.  Any competing species had been reduced to slash on the forest floor and the lines were impressively huge and numerous.  Even with my trick new Action-Tec titanium 20t chainring, the climb back up to the ridgetop was a hike.  The well-worn micro knobs on my Nano Raptor tires were definitely not up to the task of propelling me up a hill of moist leafy goo.

A paved road led me to the village green in Irasburg.  If I were out for days and days, I would certainly have gone inside the general store for some well deserved drinks and snacks.  As it was just about turn around time, I headed just a smidge further north to grab geocache GC1Q2J4, a magnetic key holder tucked inside a galvanized culvert.  The 25 miles back to Hardwick was so smooth and fast that I just had to take a rough steep detour up to Caspian Lake in Greensboro to cram in a bit more climbing.

Ride stats:
63.8 miles
4:45 moving time
13.3 mph moving average
6033′ elevation gain

Tech note:
This is the last posting that will feature photos taken with Linnaea’s Argus Bean camera.  It valiantly filled in when my Panasonic LX3 took a lens-first nose dive into pavement at the beginning of the Fleche, the enormous carabiner handle was great for holding onto while riding.  However, its still a bear of very little brain.  It seems to have a fixed focus lens, so it only works on subjects about 6′-infinity.  That makes headshots and closeups impossible.  The lens is tiny, so its not so good in poor lighting.  The sensor, while being an admirable 5mp, can’t handle a broad dynamic range, so outdoor shots in the sun end up looking to contrasty.  Both shadows and highlights are blown out.  Its white balance setting is also not so good.  Interior shots, such as you can catch them, are generally to warm.  I’ve had to adjust the Blue Curve downwards a good bit on all my outdoor shots.  All that criticism aside, its way better then either a Fischer-Price kids camera, or any 640×480 pixel cell phone camera.

In the house now is my new Canon S90.  By spec is very similar to the Panasonic LX3, but gives up a little of wide angle lens range for a lot more telephoto.  Higher quality photos are on the way!

XVTMBR scouting: Montpelier to Granville

May 11, 2010

Last year Dave Tremblay and I began pondering a long mountain bike route in Vermont, the XVTMBR.  Winter has a way of halting route scouting around here, but Dave got back to it recently with an exploration in his neck of the woods. Today’s fair weather ride led from Jones Brook Road, Herring Brook Road, Devil’s Washbowl, and yonder southwards to Raynor Road, somewhere in Roxbury or Granville. Its a classic Vermont road that starts off as a quiet but entirely ordinary dirt road with a solitary house every mile or so.  It gradually turns Class 4, and goes downhill from there.  Not from from its southern end on VT Rt 12A, its little more than a streambed.  Then a nice roll back home on the pavement.

When we’ve commuted around to scope out the whole state, this route is going to be awesome!

Not exactly the regular friendly Vermont farm sign. At least the artwork is funky.

Raynor Road, Granville...or maybe Roxbury

Raynor Road...not a road for my Corolla!

Central Vermont Cycle Tour: Preview #2

May 6, 2010

I was optimistic that by the time I began today’s ride that the spotty weather would have run its course and moved on to other places. However, by the time I had climbed up County Road as far as Mary’s house, I could see yet another threatening wall of clouds in the vicinity of Camel’s Hump and blowing this-a-way. Oh well.

Much like on April 30th, my goal was to cover as much of the CVCT loop as possible before running out of time.  The advantage of looping around the roads here is that I know then reasonably well and there are innumerable ways of shortening or lengthening the route to achieve that end.

Three or four times on my northward wandering rainclouds gently moistened me, and looking back I expected more of a righteous deluge.  Either by happening to ride in the right direction, or by some other form of luck, each time within minutes it was sunny again.

Wilbur Rd, Woodbury

Mirror Lake, Calais

Dog Pond Rd, Woodbury

As I climbed West Hill Road from Worcester to Middlesex, the impending cloud situation became quite a bit more dense and ominous.  Descending through the forested tunnel of the rough South Bear Swamp Road, I couldn’t be sure how much dry time I had left.  Menacing raindrops began as I turned onto Molly Supple Hill.  It was raining in earnest as I flew down Culver Hill Rd, the last dirt of the day.  My eyes, fortunately one at a time, stung painfully from something.  With sweat salt and cheapo Rite Aid sunscreen being washed down my head, and road mud spraying everywhere,who’s to say what the culprit was.  Tomorrow, when my head and helmet have had the chance to dry, I’ll visit Onion River Sports and pick out a large brimmed nylon hat I can wear under the helmet.  Little biker hats are chic and nifty, but in my opinion their brims are too short to effectively protect me from sun and rain.

West Hill Rd, Worcester

South Bear Swamp Rd, Middlesex

Ride stats:
57.7 miles
4:23 moving time
13.1 mph moving average
6520′ elevation gain

Central Vermont Cycling Tour route preview

April 30, 2010

Coming June 27th is the Central Vermont Cycling Tour.  While there will be 15 and 30 mile routes, the best is the 60 mile route.  Its definitely not for the faint of heart…or leg.  The version I rode today not having bothered to look at the map to make sure I got it right, had 6025′ of climbing in 53 miles.  Morse Farm, Adamant, Nelson Pond, long climbs in Woodbury and Worcester, Maple Corner, Bear Swamp…its all great.  The finest dirt road riding we’ve got to offer in these parts.

Here are a couple of pictures:

Old West Church, Calais

Barn/bridge on Tebbetts Road, Woodbury

In case you care about Geocaching, GC183FK is very near here.

Ride stats:
56.9 miles
13.6 mph moving average
4:11 overall time
no stops
6025′ gain